We invented virtues to belong

John O’Leary interviews Peter Montoya about his new book and asks about cancel culture in the United States, the meaning of virtue signaling and the reasons why we believe what we believe.

Well, I’m glad you brought up the politics side and of course, having an effect not only financially and on the freedom scores, but also on culture. One of the terms you drop several times within the book is cancel culture.

I would imagine most of our listeners and viewers know exactly what cancel culture is. But would you tell us what cancel culture is?

A cancel culture is when you have… the actual term I like using is mob character assassination. And mob character assassination is where groups of people usually start rallying together to get somebody thrown off or fired. And we’ve really come to think this has been kind of a new phenomenon that’s been happening just since 2000.

But I’ve got stories that happened to Howard Cosell back in the 1980s when he mistakenly, I really believe, sincerely, accidentally called a black man, referred to him as a monkey. He didn’t he was he used to play with his grandkids and he would call his kids little monkeys.

And then he mistakenly used that word to describe a player. And he was almost thrown off the air. Happened to Jimmy the Greek, the Dixie Chicks, J.K. Rowling. It’s happened both on the left and on the right. And what’s happening more now is with the social media and with the algorithm there comes in effect where somebody does something that can be interpreted as being wrong and then someone else, you know, the general public identifies that and says, hey, this is what this person did wrong. Look at how bad they are. And they actually get attention from that.

So when you are find a legitimate way to be greed, you get kind of vaulted because you are the person who called out the other bad actor. Then other people start glomming on to it. Then the algorithm picks it up and all of a sudden, that instance, that story is now getting more traction.

The social media companies realize, well, eyeballs are eyeballs. As long as you’re spending time on our platform, we get to sell more advertising. So it’s in their interest to keep promoting those stories. And what happens with mob character assassination is there’s no deliberative process.

There is no time for a discussion. There’s no finding out of the facts. It is just you become the judge. What’s that?

Judge, jury, and executioner.

Yeah. And so what we really want our systems of accountability, which means something happens. We then have investigators who go and investigate it and say, here’s what really happened. Then we deliberate over it. And then hopefully as a society, we realize here’s the moral learning we take from this.

And if that person apologizes and they say, hey, I made a mistake. Great. Let’s… you made a mistake. We all make mistakes. Great. We now know that we don’t call people monkies during a sports broadcast and we can move on without trying to take your hide out.

Virtue signaling,

you know, some of these words showed up in double font in your book, so talk about virtue signaling.

So virtue signaling is believe when people do things simply to symbolize their part of a tribe. So I think it’s tribal signaling. But the the inference with virtual signaling is that is insincere, that you’re only doing it to fit in.

So one of the questions I love asking people and I ask, you know, why do you believe what you believe when it comes to social events or politics? Why do you believe what you believe?

John, do you want to answer that question?

Well, raised in the house where I was raised. Raised by the parents that I was raised by, going to the school that I went to, read the books that I have, tuning into the podcasts, the news stories and books that I have.

And then the personal life experience that I have has informed how I show up every day.


As a Midwestern Middle-Class American man. So I recognize some of the… some of the weaknesses of seeing the world only through my mind set and my eyes.

So is in part due to all of the different inputs that you’ve had, which are family and friends and books and school and all sorts of the media you consume. Those are all absolutely true. And at the end of the day, the reason we believe what we believe is we believe to belong.

So we like to think that we are all very unique, critical thinkers and that we have unique political opinions. But for most of us, and this includes myself, is I don’t think I’ve got a single unique idea in my head.

I think that I’ve probably stolen every single idea. Cryptomnesia is what they call it. It’s where you get an idea for somewhere else. You’ve forgotten that you’ve gotten it from somebody else and you share it as if it was your own.

So I’ve got a lot of cryptomnesia. So the reason we believe what we believe is so we fit in with our peers and what happens with tribal signaling or virtue signaling is oftentimes we looked at, you know, wearing a mask or, you know, wearing a flag pin, and those became unfortunately, virtual signaling as being to to demonstrate what part what tribe you belong to, when it really was hopefully just rather a scientific matter in the first place. So I really come to believe that we all are always virtue signaling. It isn’t insincere.

We do it as part of our default mechanism, because in our ancient brains, if we don’t belong to a tribe, expulsion equals death. If you are more committed to national unity than partisanship, please check out my book, The Second Civil War: A Citizen’s Guide to Healing Our Fractured Nation.

My book will challenge you to improve your relationships with friends and family. Click the link in the description below.